TEA News Releases Online
Oct. 15, 2010
Love of students and science causes
2011 Texas Teachers of the Year to excel
AUSTIN – Just as soldiers answer the call of duty, Daniel Leija and Beth Huckabee answered the call to serve their country through teaching. Today, they received the state’s top teaching award for their outstanding performance.
Huckabee, a veteran science teacher from the Flour Bluff Independent School District near Corpus Christi, was named the 2011 Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year. Leija, a fifth-grade teacher from San Antonio’s Northside Independent School District, was named the 2011 Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year. Leija will also represent the state in the national Teacher of the Year competition.
Huckabee and Leija learned of their awards during a luncheon today in Austin at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center. Each will receive a $5,000 cash award, a technology package valued at more than $16,500, a computer, a trophy, a travel allowance and other prizes.
Also honored at today’s event were four additional state finalists who each received a $750 award and a commemorative trophy and 34 Regional Teachers of the Year, who each received a $500 award and a commemorative trophy.
Huckabee has taught nearly four decades, 31 years of which have been in her current position as a science teacher at Flour Bluff High School. “My first classroom 40 years ago had a green chalkboard, some textbooks, an autopsy slab with running water, and a class full of teenagers. Today, I have a brand new lab, a SMART board, and access to a class set of computers, digital microscopes and digital cameras for students to use,” she says.
“My college training did not prepare me for the tools that I now can access. My students will face a similar leap except their leap will need to occur much faster and will be a greater leap than mine. These students must be ready to be life-long learners. We must rethink how we teach to ensure that our students are ready for the next leap in technology and careers,” Huckabee said.
During her years in the classroom, Huckabee has learned that students are more eager to learn when they know their teachers care about them. She works to connect with her students by sponsoring student clubs such as the National Honor Society and the Student Council and coaching teen kickball teams.
Besides receiving numerous awards during her career, Huckabee sees signs every day that point to her success as a teacher. “I smile when I walk past the classroom of my ex-physics student who struggled but didn’t give up and who is now teaching Pre-AP Pre-Cal (Pre-Calculus). I love the fact that next door is my shy anatomy student who is now teaching Health Sciences to our future doctors and nurses with confidence and self-assurance,” she says.
After teaching all these years, Huckabee says, “I still get up every morning looking forward to going to school, and I am a little sad in May when the school year ends.”
Leija, an Air Force veteran, is known as “Dan, Dan, the science man” around the Esparza campus where he teaches fifth grade. Every Monday, he conducts televised science experiments that are broadcast to the entire campus. These experiments are one way he reinforces the connection between a concept and real-world applications.
“Teaching is not just my job; it is my calling, my passion, my legacy. Because my students come to me burdened with academic, social, emotional and familial gaps, it is imperative to provide the guidance and leadership to help chart their course through life’s rough waters and cheer them on to success. To accomplish this feat I feel it necessary to be available to them not only in the classroom, but at any time throughout the year and long after they have moved on,” Leija said.
The recipient of a number of teaching awards, Leija serves as a mentor to teachers who have come to the profession through the Troops to Teacher program. He learned early on himself how critical it is to have a veteran teacher work closely with a new teacher.
He recalls his first day at the head of the class. “Preparing for combat situations and war zones was nothing compared to facing 21 kindergartners my first morning as a teacher. Fortunately I had been paired with Margie Dominguez, a 20-plus year veteran teacher who would skillfully guide me through my first year of teaching. The methodologies and strategies she unselfishly shared transformed me from mediocrity to a highly effective teacher,” Leija said.
Now with 10 years of teaching under his belt, Leija has crafted his own essay about what it means to be a teacher. The essay is attached.
The Texas Teacher of the Year program is sponsored by the Texas Education Agency with support from the following generous donors:
Photos from the luncheon will be posted shortly at http://www.flickr.com/photos/txedu/sets/.